08/07 09:33 CDT Israeli team's massacre overshadows sports at 1972 Olympics
Israeli team's massacre overshadows sports at 1972 Olympics
By ARON HELLER
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) --- The 1972 Munich Olympics were marked by historic
achievements and unprecedented controversy but will be forever defined by
In hosting the 1972 Munich Games, West Germany was eager to erase the stain of
the 1936 Games in Berlin that came to symbolize a paragon of Nazi propaganda.
Munich introduced the first-ever Olympic mascot, the dachshund "Waldi," and its
official motto, "the cheerful Games," looked to project that feel-good spirit.
It started out that way, with American swimmer Mark Spitz winning the gold
medal and setting world records in all his seven events. It continued with a
coming out party for Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut, who soared to three gold
medals and helped revolutionize the sport with her acrobatic performances. And
it concluded with the men's basketball final, in which the United States
suffered its first-ever international loss in a game marred by multiple
questionable calls in the final seconds to hand the Soviet Union a 51-50
However, it was all overshadowed by one of the greatest tragedies to ever
befell a sporting event -- the massacre of the Israeli Olympic team.
In the early hours of Sept. 5, eight Palestinians from the "Black September"
group raided the Olympic village. They infiltrated the Israeli living quarters
and killed an Israeli weightlifter and wrestling coach before taking nine
others hostage. The Palestinian attackers demanded the release of prisoners
held by Israel and two left-wing extremists in West German jails. To prove
their resolve, the attackers castrated one of the Israelis before he was shot
dead and tossed the body of the other out on the street.
A lengthy negotiation with West German authorities ensued, with much of the
drama unfolding on live television. At one point, two of the hostages were
allowed to have a brief conversation with German authorities through a
second-floor window to prove they were alive. But when one tried to answer a
question he was clubbed in the head by the butt of a rifle. An Associated Press
image of one of the masked kidnappers on an Olympic village balcony quickly
Eventually, the kidnappers were transferred to an airfield, along with their
hostages, under the guise of meeting their demands. But amid a botched German
rescue attempt, the Palestinian kidnappers opened fire on their hostages and
hurled a grenade inside one of the helicopters in which the Israelis were bound.
Altogether, 11 Israelis were killed in the brazen operation that shocked the
world, gave the Palestinian cause a worldwide audience and ushered in a new era
of global terrorism. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir set up a
special unit from Israel's top-secret Mossad agency to hunt down and eliminate
all those involved in the massacre.
The games were put on hold for 34 hours. But despite heavy criticism they
resumed upon the decision of International Olympics Committee chief Avery
Brundage, who already faced charges of anti-Semitism for his instrumental role
in the 1936 Olympics and close ties to Nazi officials.
Only 44 years later, did the IOC finally commemorate the victims before the
2016 Rio Games.
The mustachioed American was the undisputed sporting star of the games. He won
gold in all seven of his events, a feat surpassed only by Michael Phelps at the
2008 Beijing Games. Spitz placed first in the 100-meter freestyle, the
200-meter freestyle, the 100-meter butterfly, the 200-meter butterfly, the
4x100-meter freestyle relay, the 4x200-meter freestyle relay and the
4x100-meter medley relay. Astoundingly, he set a world record in each event.
As a Jewish athlete, there was concern that he would also be targeted. He was
placed under guard and escorted out the country for his own safety after the
The teenage Soviet gymnast exploded on the scene, becoming a star after winning
gold in the team competition. The "Sparrow from Minsk" also won gold in the
Balance Beam and floor exercise, narrowly missing out in the all-around because
of a dramatic fall.
Her performance at the 1972 Games is widely credited with redefining gymnastics
as an acrobatic, rather than dance-centric, sport and ushered in a new era of
popularity. The originator of the "Korbut flip" later became the inaugural
inductee to the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
THE BASKETBALL FINAL
The game remains one of the most controversial events in Olympics history. The
team of U.S. college stars entered the game protecting a 63-0 overall record
for Americans in men's basketball, winning gold in every Olympics. At the
height of the Cold War, the U.S. was once again a heavy favorite over the
After a close-fought game, the Americans clung to a 50-49 lead with three
seconds left. The Soviets immediately inbounded the ball but confusion over
whether a time-out had been called sparked an official to halt play with a
second left, triggering the first do-over.
The Soviets inbounded the ball again, failing to score and setting off an
American celebration and fans streaming into the court. But the officials
hadn't properly re-set the clock and inexplicably ordered another take. With a
third chance at hand, the Soviets heaved a desperation pass the length of the
floor that was converted into a layup to edge ahead at the buzzer.
An irate U.S. team boycotted the medal ceremony and filed an official protest.
A panel swiftly rejected it along political lines. The U.S. team still refuses
to claim their silver medals.
Follow Aron Heller on Twitter at www.twitter.com/aronhellerap